corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament

1 Corinthians 4



Other Authors
Verse 1

Ministers of Christ (υπηρετας Χριστουhupēretas Christou). Paul and all ministers (διακονουςdiakonous) of the New Covenant (1 Corinthians 3:5) are under-rowers, subordinate rowers of Christ, only here in Paul‘s Epistles, though in the Gospels (Luke 4:20 the attendant in the synagogue) and the Acts (Acts 13:5) of John Mark. The so (ουτωςhoutōs) gathers up the preceding argument (3:5-23) and applies it directly by the as (ωςhōs) that follows.

Stewards of the mysteries of God (οικονομους μυστηριων τεουoikonomous mustēriōn theou). The steward or house manager (οικοςoikos house, νεμωnemō to manage, old word) was a slave (δουλοςdoulos) under his lord (κυριοςkurios Luke 12:42), but a master (Luke 16:1) over the other slaves in the house (menservants παιδαςpaidas maidservants παιδισκαςpaidiskas Luke 12:45), an overseer (επιτροποςepitropos) over the rest (Matthew 20:8). Hence the under-rower (υπηρετηςhupēretēs) of Christ has a position of great dignity as steward (οικονομοςoikonomos) of the mysteries of God. Jesus had expressly explained that the mysteries of the kingdom were open to the disciples (Matthew 13:11). They were entrusted with the knowledge of some of God‘s secrets though the disciples were not such apt pupils as they claimed to be (Matthew 13:51; Matthew 16:8-12). As stewards Paul and other ministers are entrusted with the mysteries (see note on 1 Corinthians 2:7 for this word) of God and are expected to teach them. “The church is the οικοςoikos (1 Timothy 3:15), God the οικοδεσποτηςoikodespotēs (Matthew 13:52), the members the οικειοιoikeioi (Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 2:19)” (Lightfoot). Paul had a vivid sense of the dignity of this stewardship (οικονομιαoikonomia) of God given to him (Colossians 1:25; Ephesians 1:10). The ministry is more than a mere profession or trade. It is a calling from God for stewardship.

Verse 2

Here (ωδεhōde). Either here on earth or in this matter. It is always local.

Moreover (λοιπονloipon). Like λοιπονloipon in 1 Corinthians 1:16 which see, accusative of general reference, as for what is left, besides.

It is required (ζητειταιzēteitai). It is sought. Many MSS. read ζητειτεzēteite ye seek, an easy change as αιai and εe came to be pronounced alike (Robertson, Grammar, p. 186).

That a man be found faithful (ινα πιστος τις ευρετηιhina pistos tis heurethēi). Non-final use of ιναhina with first aorist passive subjunctive of ευρισκωheuriskō the result of the seeking (ζητεωzēteō). Fidelity is the essential requirement in all such human relationships, in other words, plain honesty in handling money like bank-clerks or in other positions of trust like public office.

Verse 3

But with me (εμοι δεemoi de). The ethical dative of personal relation and interest, “as I look at my own case.” Cf. Philemon 1:21.

It is a very small thing (εις ελαχιστον εστινeis elachiston estin). This predicate use of ειςeis is like the Hebrew, but it occurs also in the papyri. The superlative ελαχιστονelachiston is elative, very little, not the true superlative, least. “It counts for very little with me.”

That I should be judged of you (ινα υπ υμων ανακριτωhina huph' humōn anakrithō). Same use of ιναhina as in 1 Corinthians 4:2. For the verb (first aorist passive subjunctive of ανακρινωanakrinō) see note on 1 Corinthians 2:14. Paul does not despise public opinion, but he denies “the competency of the tribunal” in Corinth (Robertson and Plummer) to pass on his credentials with Christ as his Lord.

Or of man‘s judgement (η υπο αντρωπινης ημεραςē hupo anthrōpinēs hēmeras). Or “by human day,” in contrast to the Lord‘s Day (der Tag) in 1 Corinthians 3:13. “That is the tribunal which the Apostle recognizes; a human tribunal he does not care to satisfy” (Robertson and Plummer).

Yea, I judge not mine own self (αλλ ουδε εμαυτον ανακρινωall' oude emauton anakrinō). ΑλλαAlla here is confirmatory, not adversative. “I have often wondered how it is that every man sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others” (M. Aurelius, xii. 4. Translated by Robertson and Plummer). Paul does not even set himself up as judge of himself.

Verse 4

For I know nothing against myself (ουδεν γαρ εμαυτωι συνοιδαouden gar emautōi sunoida). Not a statement of fact, but an hypothesis to show the unreliability of mere complacent self-satisfaction. Note the use of συνοιδαsunoida (second perfect active indicative with dative (disadvantage) of the reflexive pronoun) for guilty knowledge against oneself (cf. Acts 5:2; Acts 12:12; Acts 14:6).

Yet (αλλall'). Adversative use of αλλαalla

Am I not hereby justified (ουκ εν τουτωι δεδικαιωμαιouk en toutōi dedikaiōmai). Perfect passive indicative of state of completion. Failure to be conscious of one‘s own sins does not mean that one is innocent. Most prisoners plead “not guilty.” Who is the judge of the steward of the mysteries of God? It is the Lord “that judgeth me” (ο ανακρινων μεho anakrinōn me). Probably, who examines me and then passes on my fidelity (πιστοςpistos in 1 Corinthians 4:2).

Verse 5

Wherefore (ωστεhōste). As in 1 Corinthians 3:21 which see.

Judge nothing (μη τι κρινετεmē ti krinete). Stop passing judgment, stop criticizing as they were doing. See the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:1. The censorious habit was ruining the Corinthian Church.

Before the time (προ καιρουpro kairou). The day of the Lord in 1 Corinthians 3:13. “Do not therefore anticipate the great judgment (κρισιςkrisis) by any preliminary investigation (ανακρισιςanakrisis) which must be futile and incomplete” (Lightfoot).

Until the Lord come (εως αν ελτηι ο κυριοςheōs an elthēi ho kurios). Common idiom of εωςheōs and the aorist subjunctive with or without ανan for a future event. Simple futurity, but held forth as a glorious hope, the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus as Judge.

Who will both bring to light (ος και πωτισειhos kai phōtisei). Future indicative of this late verb (in papyri also) from πωςphōs (light), to turn the light on the hidden things of darkness.

And make manifest (και πανερωσειkai phanerōsei). (Ionic and late) causative verb πανεροωphaneroō from πανεροςphaneros By turning on the light the counsels of all hearts stand revealed.

His praise (ο επαινοςho epainos). The praise (note article) due him from God (Romans 2:29) will come to each then (τοτεtote) and not till then. Meanwhile Paul will carry on and wait for the praise from God.

Verse 6

I have in a figure transferred (μετεσχηματισαmeteschēmatisa). First aorist active (not perfect) indicative of μετασχηματιζωmetȧschēmatizō used by Plato and Aristotle for changing the form of a thing (from μεταmeta after, and σχημαschēma form or habit, like Latin habitus from εχωechō and so different from μορπηmorphē as in Philemon 2:7; Romans 12:2). For the idea of refashioning see Field, Notes, p. 169f. and Preisigke, Fachworter). Both Greek and Latin writers (Quintilian, Martial) used σχημαschēma for a rhetorical artifice. Paul‘s use of the word (in Paul only in N.T.) appears also further in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 where the word occurs three times, twice of the false apostles posing and passing as apostles of Christ and ministers of righteousness, and once of Satan as an angel of light, twice with ειςeis and once with ωςhōs In Philemon 3:21 the word is used for the change in the body of our humiliation to the body of glory. But here it is clearly the rhetorical figure for a veiled allusion to Paul and Apollos “for your sakes” (δια υμαςdia humas).

That in us ye may learn (ινα εν ημιν ματητεhina en hēmin mathēte). Final clause with ιναhina and the second aorist active subjunctive of μαντανωmanthanō to learn. As an object lesson in our cases (εν ημινen hēmin). It is no more true of Paul and Apollos than of other ministers, but the wrangles in Corinth started about them. So Paul boldly puts himself and Apollos to the fore in the discussion of the principles involved.

Not to go beyond the things which are written (το Μη υπερ α γεγραπταιto Mē huper ha gegraptai). It is difficult to reproduce the Greek idiom in English. The article τοto is in the accusative case as the object of the verb ματητεmathēte (learn) and points at the words “Μη υπερ α γεγραπταιMē huper ha gegraptai apparently a proverb or rule, and elliptical in form with no principal verb expressed with μηmē whether “think” (Auth.) or “go” (Revised). There was a constant tendency to smooth out Paul‘s ellipses as in 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Corinthians 1:26, 1 Corinthians 1:31. Lightfoot thinks that Paul may have in mind O.T. passages quoted in 1 Corinthians 1:19, 1 Corinthians 1:31; 1 Corinthians 3:19, 1 Corinthians 3:20.

That ye be not puffed up (ινα μη πυσιουστεhina mē phusiousthe). Sub-final use of ιναhina (second use in this sentence) with notion of result. It is not certain whether πυσιουστεphusiousthe (late verb form like πυσιαω πυσαωphusiaōιναphusaō to blow up, to inflate, to puff up), used only by Paul in the N.T., is present indicative with ζηλουτεhina like ινα γινωσκομενzēloute in Galatians 4:17 (cf. Πυσιοωhina ginōskomen in 1 John 5:20) or the present subjunctive by irregular contraction (Robertson, Grammar, pp. 203, 342f.), probably the present indicative. πυσιςPhusioō is from πυσαωphusis (nature) and so meant to make natural, but it is used by Paul just like πυσιαωphusaō or πυσαphusiaō (from εις υπερ του ενος κατα του ετερουphusa a pair of bellows), a vivid picture of self-conceit.

One for the one against the other (υπερheis huper tou henos kata tou heterou). This is the precise idea of this idiom of partitive apposition. This is the rule with partisans. They are “for” (καταhuper) the one and “against” (του ετερουkata down on, the genitive case) the other (ετεροδοχtou heterou not merely another or a second, but the different sort, heterodox).

Verse 7

Maketh thee to differ (σε διακρινειse diakrinei). Distinguishes thee, separates thee. ΔιακρινωDiakrinō means to sift or separate between (διαdia) as in Acts 15:9 (which see) where μεταχυmetaxu is added to make it plainer. All self-conceit rests on the notion of superiority of gifts and graces as if they were self-bestowed or self-acquired.

Which thou didst not receive (ο ουκ ελαβεςho ouk elabes). “Another home-thrust” (Robertson and Plummer). Pride of intellect, of blood, of race, of country, of religion, is thus shut out.

Dost thou glory (καυχασαιkauchasai). The original second person singular middle ending σαι̇sai is here preserved with variable vowel contraction, καυχαεσαικαυχασαιkauchaesaîkauchasai (Robertson, Grammar, p. 341). Paul is fond of this old and bold verb for boasting.

As if thou hadst not received it (ως μη λαβωνhōs mē labōn). This neat participial clause (second aorist active of λαμβανωlambanō) with ωςhōs (assumption) and negative μηmē punctures effectually the inflated bag of false pride. What pungent questions Paul has asked. Robertson and Plummer say of Augustine, “Ten years before the challenge of Pelagius, the study of St. Paul‘s writings, and especially of this verse and of Romans 9:16, had crystallized in his mind the distinctively Augustinian doctrines of man‘s total depravity, of irresistible grace, and of absolute predestination.” Human responsibility does exist beyond a doubt, but there is no foundation for pride and conceit.

Verse 8

Already are ye filled? (ηδη κεκορεσμενοι εστεēdē kekoresmenoi estė). Perfect passive indicative, state of completion, of κορεννυμιkorennumi old Greek verb to satiate, to satisfy. The only other example in N.T. is Acts 27:38 which see. Paul may refer to Deuteronomy 31:20; Deuteronomy 32:15. But it is keen irony, even sarcasm. Westcott and Hort make it a question and the rest of the sentence also.

Already ye are become rich (ηδη επλουτησατεēdē eploutēsate). Note change to ingressive aorist indicative of πλουτεωplouteō old verb to be rich (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9). “The aorists, used instead of perfects, imply indecent haste” (Lightfoot). “They have got a private millennium of their own” (Robertson & Plummer) with all the blessings of the Messianic Kingdom (Luke 22:29.; 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 2 Timothy 2:12).

Ye have reigned without us (χωρις ημων εβασιλευσατεchōris hēmōn ebasileusate). Withering sarcasm. Ye became kings without our company. Some think that Paul as in 1 Corinthians 3:21 is purposely employing Stoic phraseology though with his own meanings. If so, it is hardly consciously done. Paul was certainly familiar with much of the literature of his time, but it did not shape his ideas.

I would that ye did reign (και οπελον γε εβασιλευσατεkai ophelon ge ebasileusate). More exactly, “And would at least that ye had come to reign (or become kings).” It is an unfulfilled wish about the past expressed by οπελονophelon and the aorist indicative instead of ει γαρei gar and the aorist indicative (the ancient idiom). See Robertson, Grammar, p. 1003, for the construction with particle οπελονophelon (an unaugmented second aorist form).

That we also might reign with you (ινα και ημεις υμιν συνβασιλευσωμενhina kai hēmeis humin sunbasileusōmen). Ironical contrast to χωρις ημων εβασιλευσατεchōris hēmōn ebasileusate just before. Associative instrumental case of υμινhumin after συνsuṅ f0).

Verse 9

Hath set forth us the apostles last (ημας τους αποστολους εσχατους απεδειχενhēmas tous apostolous eschatous apedeixen). The first aorist active indicative of αποδεικνυμιapodeiknumi old verb to show, to expose to view or exhibit (Herodotus), in technical sense (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:4) for gladiatorial show as in ετηριομαχησαethēriomachēsa (1 Corinthians 15:32). In this grand pageant Paul and other apostles come last (εσχατουςeschatous predicate accusative after απεδειχενapedeixen) as a grand finale.

As men doomed to die (ως επιτανατιουςhōs epithanatious). Late word, here alone in N.T. The lxx (Bel and the Dragon 31) has it for those thrown daily to the lions. Dionysius of Halicarnassus (A.R. vii. 35) uses it of those thrown from the Tarpeian Rock. The gladiators would say morituri salutamus. All this in violent contrast to the kingly Messianic pretensions of the Corinthians.

A spectacle (τεατρονtheatron). Cf. Hebrews 11:33-40. The word, like our theatre, means the place of the show (Acts 19:29, Acts 19:31). Then, it means the spectacle shown there (τεαμαtheama or τεαthea), and, as here, the man exhibited as the show like the verb τεατριζομενοιtheatrizomenoi made a spectacle (Hebrews 10:33). Sometimes it refers to the spectators (τεαταιtheatai) like our “house” for the audience. Here the spectators include “the world, both to angels and men” (τωι κοσμωι και αγγελοις και αντρωποιςtōi kosmōi kai aggelois kai anthrōpois), dative case of personal interest.

Verse 10

We - you (ημεισυμειςhēmeiṡ̇humeis). Triple contrast in keenest ironical emphasis. “The three antitheses refer respectively to teaching, demeanour, and worldly position” (Robertson and Plummer). The apostles were fools for Christ‘s sake (2 Corinthians 4:11; Philemon 3:7). They made “union with Christ the basis of worldly wisdom” (Vincent). There is change of order (chiasm) in the third ironical contrast. They are over strong in pretension. ΕνδοχοςEndoxos illustrious, is one of the 103 words found only in Luke and Paul in the N.T. Notion of display and splendour.

Verse 11

Even unto this present hour (αχρι της αρτι ωραςachri tēs arti hōras). ΑρτιArti (just now, this very minute) accents the continuity of the contrast as applied to Paul. Ten verbs and four participles from 1 Corinthians 4:11 give a graphic picture of Paul‘s condition in Ephesus when he is writing this epistle.

We hunger (πεινωμενpeinōmen), we thirst (διπσωμενdipsōmen), are naked (γυμνιτευομενgumniteuomen), late verb for scant clothing from γυμνητηςgumnētēs are buffeted (κολαπιζομεταkolaphizometha), to strike a blow with the fist from κολαποςkolaphos and one of the few N.T. and ecclesiastical words and see Matthew 26:67, have no certain dwelling place (αστατουμενastatoumen) from αστατοςastatos strolling about and only here save Anthol. Pal. and Aquila in Isaiah 58:7. Field in Notes, p. 170 renders 1 Corinthians 4:11 “and are vagabonds” or spiritual hobos.

Verse 12

We toil (κοπιωμενkopiōmen). Common late verb for weariness in toil (Luke 5:5), working with our own hands (εργαζομενοι ταις ιδιαις χερσινergazomenoi tais idiais chersin) instrumental case χερσινchersin and not simply for himself but also for Aquila and Priscilla as he explains in Acts 20:34. This personal touch gives colour to the outline. Paul alludes to this fact often (1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 9:6; 2 Corinthians 11:7). “Greeks despised manual labour; St. Paul glories in it” (Robertson and Plummer). Cf. Deissmann, Light, etc., p. 317.

Being reviled we bless (λοιδορουμενοι ευλογουμενloidoroumenoi eulogoumen). Almost the language of Peter about Jesus (1 Peter 2:23) in harmony with the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27.

Being persecuted we endure (διωκομενοι ανεχομεταdiōkomenoi anechometha). We hold back and do not retaliate. Turn to Paul‘s other picture of his experiences in the vivid contrasts in 2 Corinthians 4:7-10; 2 Corinthians 6:3-10 for an interpretation of his language here.

Verse 13

Being defamed we intreat (δυσπημουμενοι παρακαλουμενdusphēmoumenoi parakaloumen). The participle δυσπημουμενοιdusphēmoumenoi is an old verb (in 1 Maccabees 7:41) to use ill, from δυσπημοςdusphēmos but occurs here only in the N.T. Paul is opening his very heart now after the keen irony above.

As the filth of the world (ως περικαταρματα του κοσμουhōs perikatharmata tou kosmou). Literally, sweepings, rinsings, cleansings around, dust from the floor, from περικαταιρωperikathairō to cleanse all around (Plato and Aristotle) and so the refuse thrown off in cleansing. Here only in the N.T. and only twice elsewhere. ΚαταρμαKatharma was the refuse of a sacrifice. In Proverbs 21:18 περικαταρμαperikatharma occurs for the scapegoat. The other example is Epictetus iii. 22, 78, in the same sense of an expiatory offering of a worthless fellow. It was the custom in Athens during a plague to throw to the sea some wretch in the hope of appeasing the gods. One hesitates to take it so here in Paul, though Findlay thinks that possibly in Ephesus Paul may have heard some such cry like that in the later martyrdoms Christiani ad leones. At any rate in 1 Corinthians 15:32 Paul says “I fought with wild beasts” and in 2 Corinthians 1:9 “I had the answer of death.” Some terrible experience may be alluded to here. The word shows the contempt of the Ephesian populace for Paul as is shown in Acts 19:23-41 under the influence of Demetrius and the craftsmen.

The offscouring of all things (παντων περιπσημαpantōn peripsēma). Late word, here only in N.T., though in Tob. 5:18. The word was used in a formula at Athens when victims were flung into the sea, περιπσημα ημων γενουperipsēma hēmōn genou (Became a περιπσημαperipsēma for us), in the sense of expiation. The word merely means scraping around from περιπσαωperipsaō offscrapings or refuse. That is probably the idea here as in Tob. 5:18. It came to have a complimentary sense for the Christians who in a plague gave their lives for the sick. But it is a bold figure here with Paul of a piece with περικαταρματαperikatharmata f0).

Verse 14

To shame you (εντρεπωνentrepōn). Literally, shaming you (present active participle of εντρεπωentrepō), old verb to turn one on himself either middle or with reflexive pronoun and active, but the reflexive εαυτοιςheautois is not expressed here. See note on 2 Thessalonians 3:14. The harsh tone has suddenly changed.

Verse 15

To admonish (νουτετωνnouthetōn). Literally, admonishing (present active participle of νουτετεωnoutheteō). See note on 1 Thessalonians 5:12, note on. 1 Thessalonians 5:14.

For though ye should have (εαν γαρ εχητεean gar echēte). Third-class condition undetermined, but with prospect of being determined (εανean and present subjunctive), “for if ye have.”

Tutors (παιδαγωγουςpaidagōgous). This old word (παιςpais boy, αγωγοςagōgos leader) was used for the guide or attendant of the child who took him to school as in Galatians 3:24 (Christ being the schoolmaster) and also as a sort of tutor who had a care for the child when not in school. The papyri examples (Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary) illustrate both aspects of the paedagogue. Here it is the “tutor in Christ” who is the Teacher. These are the only two N.T. examples of the common word.

I begot you (υμας εγεννησαhumas egennēsa). Paul is their spiritual father in Christ, while Apollos and the rest are their tutors in Christ.

Verse 16

Be ye imitators of me (μιμηται μου γινεστεmimētai mou ginesthe). “Keep on becoming (present middle imperative) imitators of me (objective genitive).” ΜιμητηςMimētēs is an old word from μιμεομαιmimeomai to copy, to mimic (μιμοςmimos). Paul stands for his rights as their spiritual father against the pretensions of the Judaizers who have turned them against him by the use of the names of Apollos and Cephas.

Verse 17

Have I sent (επεμπσαepempsa). First aorist active indicative. Probably Timothy had already gone as seems clear from 1 Corinthians 16:10. Apparently Timothy came back to Ephesus and was sent on to Macedonia before the uproar in Ephesus (Acts 19:22). Probably also Titus was then despatched to Corinth, also before the uproar.

In every church (εν πασηι εκκλησιαιen pasēi ekklēsiāi). Paul expects his teachings and practices to be followed in every church (1 Corinthians 14:33). Note his language here “my ways those in Christ Jesus.” Timothy as Paul‘s spokesman will remind (αναμνησειanamnēsei) the Corinthians of Paul‘s teachings.

Verse 18

Some are puffed up (επυσιωτησανephusiōthēsan). First aorist (effective) passive indicative of πυσιοωphusioō which see note on 1 Corinthians 4:6.

As though I were not coming to you (ως μη ερχομενου μου προς υμαςhōs mē erchomenou mou pros humas). Genitive absolute with particle (assuming it as so) with μηmē as negative.

Verse 19

If the Lord will (εαν ο κυριος τελησηιean ho kurios thelēsēi). Third-class condition. See James 4:15; Acts 18:21; 1 Corinthians 16:7 for the use of this phrase. It should represent one‘s constant attitude, though not always to be spoken aloud.

But the power (αλλα την δυναμινalla tēn dunamin). The puffed up Judaizers did a deal of talking in Paul‘s absence. He will come and will know their real strength. II Corinthians gives many evidences of Paul‘s sensitiveness to their talk about his inconsistencies and cowardice (in particular chs. 2 Corinthians 1; 2; 10; 11; 12; 2 Corinthians 13:1-14). He changed his plans to spare them, not from timidity. It will become plain later that Timothy failed on this mission and that Titus succeeded.

Verse 21

With a rod (εν ραβδωιen rabdōi). The so-called instrumental use of ενen like the Hebrew (1 Samuel 17:43). The shepherd leaned on his rod, staff, walking stick. The paedagogue had his rod also.

Shall I come? (ελτωelthō̱). Deliberative subjunctive. Paul gives them the choice. They can have him as their spiritual father or as their paedagogue with a rod.


Copyright Statement
The Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Copyright Broadman Press 1932,33, Renewal 1960. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman Press (Southern Baptist Sunday School Board)

Bibliography Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 4:4". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology